I’m about to fire an employee — and we just hired her husband

A reader writes:

One of my staff is about to be fired for grossly inadequate performance. I’m confident that we’re on safe legal ground with the firing, and her performance issues have been documented and addressed with no improvement.

However, the complication is that we have just hired her husband to work within the same team. (I’m aware that hiring couples isn’t ideal even when nobody is getting fired. However, we’re in a small town and had a very limited pool of candidates to choose from.)

How can we best handle this to minimize fall-out within the team, and avoid causing more pain than is necessary for both members of the couple?

Oooooh.

The best thing you can do is to assume that this might sour the husband on working for you, and be okay with that possibility.

Or it might not! Some people are able to compartmentalize about this kind of thing and carry on without much angst. And who knows, it’s possible that the wife knows this is the wrong fit for her, sees the firing coming, and will be relieved by it — and she might not have any ill will toward the company that might affect the husband’s outlook.

Or not. She might think she was treated unfairly, and the husband might see it that way too. Or he might not agree with her take but still decide it’s not good for his marital harmony to work for a company that his wife feels mistreated her … especially if it starts to feel awkward for him to ever talk about work or his coworkers or his boss because she feels they did her wrong.

All you can do is to treat the wife with as much dignity as possible (which you should do whenever you’re firing anyone, but it’s especially important here). That means make sure that you’ve given her clear warnings that her work is falling short and explain what she needs to do to improve (which it sounds like you’ve done), that you’ve warned her that she could be fired if you don’t see the changes you need within X timeline (which you might have done, but also might not have; make sure you do), and that you treat her well during the firing itself. That last part means might mean saying things like “I know you’ve really tried to make this work and I appreciate that” (if that’s true) and “you’re great at X and Y but this role really requires Z” (if X and Y are things you can credibly say) and making it clear this is about a mismatch between her strengths and the need of the role (and not because she’s lazy or incompetent, etc.). It also means making the firing as logistically and financially easy on her as you can: offering severance if you can do that, not contesting unemployment benefits if she files for them, and agreeing on messaging to use with your staff and clients (if that’s possible).

These are great things to do with any firing, not only because they’re kind and the right thing to do, but because the rest of your staff is always part of your audience with a firing, and they’ll pay attention to how you treat people you’re parting from.

There’s also the question of what, if anything, to say to the husband. One option is to talk with him the next day (after he’s had time to talk with his wife) and say something like, “I know it could be awkward that Jane isn’t working with us anymore, and I understand you’re in a strange position here. I want to let you know how happy we were to hire you, and that hasn’t changed. We really value your work, and I hope this won’t change your interest in staying.”

Then, if he seems unsure about where he stands, you could say, “I’m glad to talk with you any time about how we handle it when someone turns out not to well matched with what we need, if you have concerns about that. But I also understand this might just be a tough position for you, regardless, and I support you in doing whatever is best for you. But I hope there’s a way for you to feel comfortable staying.”

But ultimately this just might not work out, and it’s okay if that’s the outcome — because if he does feel uncomfortable or like his job will never be an easy topic in his marriage, it’s better for him to move on. It’s not great for you, but that’s the price of hiring spouses! (And I don’t mean that in a lecture-y way, just a practical one.)

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. Roscoe

    Yeah, you may want to internally start planning on looking for 2 replacements. There is a very good chance that he will stay short term, but continue looking for a new role. That just seems like a recipe for disaster, even for the most rational people.

      1. Busy

        Yeah, I am leaning this way too. Putting myself in the husband’s position, aside from all the great points made above, I would really wonder about timing! Like why right when I’m starting they are firing her? And there is likely a really easy answer to that, but I would still wonder …

        1. Sloan Kittering

          Yes I would worry that they didn’t want a couple working in the office together so they fired the wife (which sadly it does often seem to be the female partner who gets dismissed IME). In this case it seems clear that this is not true, but the optics are unfortunate.

          1. valentine

            I would wonder if I was hired to replace the wife.
            My concern would be that you’ll have to clean up after her and not be able to see whether the team/role has to do it or its punishment/retaliation.

            Like why right when I’m starting they are firing her?
            If you don’t know your wife isn’t doing well at work, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

            1. Wintermute

              I would agree about the first, I would never stay in that role, because the chances I’ll rise on my own merits is going to be slim. My wife’s failed career is going to be a dead albatross around my neck forever, or at least until I take some action to get free.

              The second? I don’t know, no one ever tells their spouse they’re failing badly at work. There may be hints, there may not be, it’s hard to say.

            2. Artemesia

              why would he know if his wife is doing well at work? Most spouses don’t micromanage each other’s jobs and most people also don’t come and say ‘gee, I am the worst employee on my team.’ Spouses tend to assume their partner is being unfairly treated if they are being PIPped or fired etc.

              This will not end well. Unless the wife literally knows she is failing and is actually grateful to be out of there, the husband is likely to resent the situation and be a short termer if he follows through on the job at all.

              1. Vixy

                My ex was bad at his job and I knew it based on the way he vented and ranted about it. He had other admirable qualities, but his work performance was lack luster. When he was given a PIP, I knew it was probably justified and I only knew his side of the story, complete with “they have it out for me” plots.

                1. RabbitGal

                  I think we broke up from the same person.
                  He was like that at every job he was at, and quit the job we both worked at when he figured out his attendance would result in his firing.

              2. Creag an Tuire

                TBH, I’d have the opposite problem with my spouse.
                “Ughhh, I barely managed to slap that teapot together by deadline, I think I’m in over my head here.”
                Gets a glowing review and a raise
                “I can’t believe they think I’m doing a good job.”

                The Imposter Syndrome is strong in her. I’m not sure how I’d tell if she were actually underperforming.

          2. The Bimmer Guy

            Well, they don’t say that they’re participating in the same role, just they they’re on the same team.

          3. selena81

            Yeah, the timing sounds like the biggest issue here.

            This wouldn’t be half as much a problem if he’d have applied when she was already completely fired: then it’d be his conscious choice to want to work for a company that sacked his partner.
            And alternatively it’d also be easier to swallow if they’d have had years of overlap on the team (if only because he’d have seen clear evidence of her poor performance)

            But the optics of this situation can easily look like ‘swapping out wife for husband, because we are mean puppeteers who enjoy seeing you torn between job and spouse’

    1. RUKiddingMe

      Yeah. Small town with limited applicants probably means limited jobs as well so I can see him staying long enough only to find another job. Or…he/they might be a-ok with things. I doubt that, but it’s possible.

      1. Clorinda

        Small town with limited opportunities and she just lost the job probably means they’re both looking for jobs elsewhere.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

          I agree with Florian, even (maybe especially) in a small town. People can have a disproportionate view of their own importance, or their own righteousness. The husband (and wife) may think that they wouldn’t suffer any consequences, social or economic, if they bad mouth the company for “making them” a single-income family. Or, with a limited pool of applicants and presumably customers, that the company needs them, and their network of family and friends, or they’ll go out of business.

        2. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!

          If people were logical and rational, Alison would be out of a job.

        3. Janie

          I live in a small town.

          There are two people who won’t talk to me because I didn’t give one of the kids one of them was baby-sitting a sticker. Three years ago.

          Yeah, small towns can be petty af.

  2. Amber Rose

    I have no advice, but this is probably a blessing in disguise for their marriage. If I try to imagine working on the same team as my husband and having to deal with him being grossly incompetent, and then probably have to be the sounding board/mediator for complaints about PIPs and meetings regarding mistakes, I think that would damage our relationship way more.

    We’ve had letters from people in the position of feeling like/having to say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you feel your manager is being unfair but actually she’s right that you suck and you’re making everyone’s job harder including mine” only those people didn’t then have to go home and eat/sleep with said person.

    1. Ramblin' Ma'am

      Yes indeed. I’m not married, but I have close friends and family members who I just know would be terrible coworkers. This is often based on how they describe their jobs in conversation (“Can you believe my boss got mad about me being late for my front-desk job,” etc.) I am very thankful I don’t have to work with any of them. I know it would affect our relationship.

      1. Jamie G

        Yes! I have one friend in particular who has never had a manager who wasn’t out to get him for no particular reason. Every conversation about his work is about how they screwed him over completely out of spite, etc. It’s hard to bite my tongue in casual conversation, but I can’t imagine how awful it would be if we worked together.

      2. valentine

        Why would you be married to someone who’s happy to be mired in incompetence instead of moving to a job they can do properly or even well?

        1. Amber Rose

          There are plenty of reasons that people make poor choices for themselves, especially regarding work. That doesn’t make them bad people or less deserving of love.

        2. Mike C.

          What the heck kind of question is this? Are you seriously measuring a person’s value on only their ability to make a boss happy?

          1. Wake up!

            Oh please, you’re deliberately misreading the comment to make a point. Most of us like having relationships with people who try to do a good job at *whatever* they’re doing, not someone who is always trying to just skate by.

        3. Cassandra

          Why would you assume the wife is happy? She might be really trying to improve but it’s just a mismatch and her efforts are doomed, which I can say from experience is a wretched place to be. It’s a small community with limited opportunities so for all we know she’s desperately spending her off hours job hunting and just hasn’t found something yet. There isn’t anything in the letter that signals to me that the new hire’s wife is complacently wallowing in mediocrity at work. (Or even that she’s an overall “incompetent.” She’s bad at this job but could be a generally good worker with other skills. I was miserable at my last job because despite my best efforts I just kinda sucked at it, but I still showed up and did my best and communicated with my boss etc. When I couldn’t take it anymore and saw I wasn’t able to build the skills I needed to succeed, I talked to her about transitioning out and it worked. I was fortunate to find another job and, shockingly, I’m actually pretty good at it. So my long-winded point is: you can appear to be “incompetent” at Job A but prove to be pretty darn good in Job B.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I agree. Working with my partner was amazing, we’re both on the same page work-ethic wise and good at our jobs, etc. If he couldn’t keep up and was struggling, it would have killed me and probably do real damage, if not implode our relationship, depending on how well he was understanding the situation.

      If she knows she’s struggling and is waiting for the termination with great relief, then that’s different and I’m sure the husband probably already knows some if not all of it. If she’s thinking she’s being treated unfairly and has been venting in that direction, yikes yikes yikes.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        Husband and I work for the same company…we own it. However we agreed early in that because if our unique strengths/weaknesses (which we took time to take a hard look at) that *I* am “the boss” and he is a “worker bee.”

        It works for us because we check our egis/insecurities at the door and put “never again needing to work for someone else, ever” front and center.

        Working together for another company…let me tell you about the time First Husband I both worked for Yellow Cab…

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          I was the boss when we worked together as well but I was the boss of everyone, I even had to delegate work to the frigging actual owners [they were the worst and yes, he actually did end up getting fired but not for work-related things, the owners were just vindictive fools, long story is long].

          I’ve worked for husband/wife businesses my entire life, it’s been a wonderful setup that I’ve seen work well in most situations. Minus the one where I had to tell them what to do and then they ended up getting bitter about it, sorry that you gave me that stupid look that says “what do I even do right now?” and I responded in kind with “Here’s a job for you to do right now.”, smh that hellhole. They no longer have a business tho ;) Heeheeheeeeee

          Everyone just has to be on the same page and have the same goal. The best owners/workers understand that they have their strengths and go to someone else for their weaknesses. Thats how businesses succeed, it’s not about anyones ego in the end, it’s the “Greater good”.

          1. RUKiddingMe

            This. It’s not about egos. Neither of us wants to work for other people again ever. Ergo we play to our strengths and use professional experts for those things we need like accounting, taxes, etc.

            Technically Husband is the CFO, but trust me it’s a title not something he puts a lot of time into. Basically I give him an action list to complete and he does it.

            That sounds like he doesn’t do much but he really keeps a lot of minutiae away from me.

            He is worth what we pay him simply for me needing to think about a lot of things only when we have check-ins and the peace of mind knowing he does what he needs to do without me needing to micromanage every goddamn thing.

            I can do a lot but not everything. I am not a Swiss army knife… ‍♀️

            I, as CEO/COO however do put c-level work into running stuff…but that’s my strong(est) area.

      2. Girl Alex PR

        Same experience. My husband and I worked for the same agency for several years and it was wonderful. But our work ethic and skills are very much the same and our reputation was great in the community of work we did. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if that wasn’t the case. :Shudder:

    3. sunny-dee

      I worked with my brother for a year. Both of us were high performers and did different functions on the same team, so it was okay, but if one or the other of us had had performance issues, we would called the other out. Thing is, I can throw a shoe at my brother or go on a week-long cold shoulder because he’s my brother (I have done both, and he has done similar to me because we have always been super close and sometimes that means you throw office supplies at each other). You’re like perpetually 8 years old with a sibling, so there’s some latitude. I would never treat my husband the same way and the strain would be very different.

    4. AKchic

      Oh my, no. I would never want to work with my spouse. I know his shortcomings already, and know how he likes to lean on me already for things when he either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to learn (feigned helplessness) and I have to call him out on his behavior at home. I would not want to do that in the workplace. Work is where I go to get away from home. I keep the two very much separate.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister

        My husband just started working at my organization, though thankfully in a completely separate division with zero overlap. Still, I visited his new office the other day and he was like “how do I get my laptop to work?” “Let me add you to my calendar appointments.” “Why isn’t my log in working”. Fortunately the answers were “I don’t know” and “I don’t need your appointments on my calendar” but I think it’s going to be a shift for him to rely on his own team rather than me.

        I’m still happy he’s here, though.

    5. Sloan Kittering

      The only thing worse than talking at the dinner table about your shared office would be … trying to navigate talking about the office that one of you knows well but was fired from! I agree with Alison, that is the part that would push me off if I was the husband in this case. They’re probably going to need to act like they work for the CIA and share no news, good or bad, about their work.

    6. Elizabeth West

      I can’t even. I wouldn’t want to work with a partner or spouse. I’ve had two management teams that were married couples. One fought all the time at work and the other didn’t but I just cannot imagine. Even if I loved someone more than anything on earth, I wouldn’t want them in my face at work all day.

      I seem to remember a comment here (either in a similar post or on the weekend) where a parent said something to a clingy child like, “Honey I love you but I can’t miss you if you’re here all the time.” That’s how I feel about it.

    7. Annette

      Maybe yes, maybe no. Who knows who cares. Working together = can be bad for a marriage. Money problems = definitely bad for a marriage. What’s the point in idle speculation. 99% chance – husband will be P.O.’ed.

      1. Amber Rose

        If that’s the case, a divorce/separation is still not gonna help. Neither is being so depressed by relationship troubles that both of them end up fired.

  3. CatCat

    I think in the future, before hiring a spouse or relative of a failing employee, wait until after the firing has occurred. It sounds like the writing was on the wall for quite some time here. I get that there’s a limited pool of candidates, but that would help entirely avoid any drama. I mean, what’s the point of hiring the top candidate from the very limited pool only to have them then quit over this? Obviously it depends on the marriage and the individuals, but this is definitely a foreseeable outcome.

    I’ll be interested to hear an update.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      Agreed with everything you said. Surely there had to be at least one other candidate that was passable to take this position or, if they were really set on hiring the husband, they could have pushed out the start date until after she was fired.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder

        I mean, I see your point, but that feels a little punitive to the husband. He deserved the job by virtue of being the best candidate, and the company decided not to let his relationship to a poor employee rob him of that opportunity. Isn’t that what we usually want from employers?

    2. boo bot

      Yes, I’m incredibly curious about the timing here! My best guess is that “just hired” means something like, “hired 3 months ago, when the wife’s job still looked salvageable,” and not that they hired him at the same time as they were coming to the conclusion the wife had to go.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        I assume this too but this is about the WORST timing they could have had. It does seem like they could have delayed making the offer to the husband until after they had told the wife of her firing, so he could have made an informed decision before accepting.

        1. boo bot

          Yeah, even assuming they hired the husband before it was certain that the wife would be fired, the description of her performance problems makes it seem like they knew it was a serious possibility.
          I wonder a little if this is one of those issues that arises from no one ever outright saying, “Wife, if you don’t improve on X within Y time period, you will be fired.”

          ALSO: if I were in the wife’s position, I legit might see the hiring of the husband as a sign of investment in ME: “I must be doing better, they wouldn’t hire my husband if they were just going to turn around and fire me!”

          1. boo bot

            I just realized I left out the point I wanted to make: Telling the wife outright, “You are on the firing path and speeding up,” BEFORE her husband was hired would give the two of them the information they needed, and he would be able to either withdraw from consideration, or come onto the team knowing that his wife might lose her job soon after.

            And OP, if you did all that, and made it clear that hiring the husband wasn’t a sign you believed in the wife, this might go better than you expect!

              1. JJ Bittenbinder

                I agree. That’s what most posters here are usually advocating for, as well. I don’t see why this should be any different.

  4. Ginger

    It sounds like the employee is on PIP or at least, knows that her performance isn’t going well. I wonder how much of that her husband knows of – will he be blindsided or be expecting it? None of which is the OP’s concern other than it might impact how he responds. I’m just armchair speculating over here.

    1. Hills to Die on

      You never do know how the spouse will react. We had a husband and wife couple working here, and the husband was fired for stealing. The wife divorced him a short time later. I don’t know exactly why she divorced him, despite the fact that she has become a personal friend of mine. She is a conscientous, hard-working, stellar employee and now that I know her, I can only imagine that she was mortified at her ex-husband’s behavior.

    2. Cassandra

      I was wondering this too. It’s not OP’s concern precisely, but the more OP knows about this segment of the backstory, the better prediction OP can make about what the husband will do here.

      I’m shaking my head about the whole thing. My ex-husband is… not the world’s most forthcoming person when it comes to responsibility and initiative-taking. I can’t imagine how bad working with him would have been, and I’m glad it never formally happened. (Me having to unpaid-project-manage him throughout a long-term freelance contract did happen, but that’s a whole other story.)

      Can’t add anything to Alison’s advice. My guess would be that if the marriage is at all healthy, the husband will leave the job. If it’s not… he might stay, but (I can say from experience) be prepared for disruption coming from separation/divorce.

      1. valentine

        if the marriage is at all healthy, the husband will leave the job.
        Why? Weathering this is a staple of small and company towns.

        1. Jake

          Agreed, in a small town with one major employer this will be the gossip of the day, a funny story in a week and forgotten in a month.

          The rules change when 60% of a town’s workers all work for the same place.

    3. Sloan Kittering

      In my experience, no matter what you say to an employee, they are *always* blindsided by being fired. It’s a little bit like breaking up with someone in that if they don’t want to break up, they are never going to want to hear that it’s been decided unilaterally. (My only exception is in the case of partners / employees who also didn’t want to stay together anymore and were already mentally on their way out, but I’m still frequently surprised).

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I would say, no matter what you say to an employee, some people will always be blindsided by being fired (but not all). If you’re really, really clear — meaning like “I need you to do X, Y, and Z to stay in the job, and I need to see those improvements in the next three weeks; if you have not done X, Y, and Z by then, I will need to let you go at the end of this month” — most people won’t be blindsided. But some still will.

        I think, though, that a lot of employers aren’t that clear!

        1. CmdrShepard4ever

          You mentioned in your advice:

          “Then, if he seems unsure about where he stands, you could say, “I’m glad to talk with you any time about how we handle it when someone turns out not to well matched with what we need, if you have concerns about that.”

          This is talking in the abstract, is this a situation where it might be okay to talk to the husband about what steps the company specifically took against the wife, in case the wife outright lied or misinterpreted what was going on? Or does this still fall under you never talk about someone else’s employment issues to someone else?

          1. boo bot

            Oh, I was thinking about this question, although from the other side (if it’s okay to talk to the wife about the husband’s application in light of the fact that she’s still on track to be let go.)

            I think though that talking to the husband about the wife’s firing would come across as trying to “tell our side of the story” and might end up making him feel like he’s in the middle of a conflict between his job and his family; it’s easier on everyone, I think, to offer to talk to him about what the company’s usual process is and leave it there. Let his wife’s story be the true one, even if it’s not.

            1. valentine

              if it’s okay to talk to the wife about the husband’s application
              Only in the scenario above, where she uses it as a sign her job is safe.

              He’ll probably find out the details just by being on the team.

          2. Djuna

            I’m assuming it would be in general terms, not at all specific.
            Like, explaining that there are PIPs and how those are managed – regular check-ins, clear and measurable goals, coaching, etc..
            I wouldn’t see it as an invitation for the company to tell him why they fired his wife, but more to reassure him that if there are any issues with his performance, that he wouldn’t be blindsided?
            It’s a delicate line to toe, for sure.

          3. RUKiddingMe

            I don’t like the idea of management talking about another employee regardless of their relationship to each other.

        2. Mel

          Yeah, people either don’t want to be clear about what needs to change or about what will happen if changes aren’t made.

          In my case, they were really clear that I would get fired if I didn’t improve, but I could not for the life of me get them to tell me what needed improving.

          Even when they fired me, they showed me a screen with a bunch of text that, presumably, documented my shortcomings, but they just clicked it on and off before I could read it.

          1. selena81

            …In my case, they were really clear that I would get fired if I didn’t improve, but I could not for the life of me get them to tell me what needed improving….

            I hear you. At first i just *suggested* i could maybe use some more feedback, eventually i was almost begging my manager to please PLEASE tell me in clear terms what the big issue is: why are you firing me while hiring all those new kids??

            Some comments from her have made me think maybe part of it is discrimination (on grounds of me being from a poor background), which in turn makes me worried i am one of those clueless people who is terrible at their job and blames any criticism on their boss being a jerk.

      2. Stephanie

        Hmm, I knew I was going to be fired from a job, I just didn’t know when. In that job, we basically had a quota system and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get back up to my job requirements short of sleeping in the office. I had gotten pretty clear warnings and was frantically job searching to try and preempt the firing, but this was in the thick of the recession, so there were few jobs (especially for someone very junior like me). So when I showed up one morning to work with a meeting notice titled “Performance Discussion” with my boss and her boss that was in 30 minutes, I knew. It still stung, but it wasn’t a shock.

        1. littleandsmall

          I’ve been fired from a handful of jobs and only one time did I feel blindsided by it. Oddly enough, that one time was a very similar situation to the one you described, where I had been unable to keep up with quotas and received a meeting invitation with my boss and grandboss that was similarly worded. I had been talked to about my numbers once before but it wasn’t made explicit that this was my one and final chance before being let go.

  5. merp

    Imagining the work holiday parties after all this… this is a weird situation. If it were you, would you go with your spouse after you’d been fired? Guess it depends on the circumstances entirely, but it seems like it be hard.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      Oh this is a gift that keeps giving. That’s going to be crazy.
      I accept that the talent pool is limited, but was his wife on a PIP (to simplify, just meaning the writing on the wall/her status was known) during the interview stage? There was no easy way for this end to end, though.
      She is on PIP and they don’t interview him and she gets laid off, they haven’t found anyone because he’s still better than most candidates.
      She is on PIP, they interview him but don’t make an offer. She gets laid off, they contact him because he’s still better than the others.
      This is just one of those crappy situations for everyone.

      1. valentine

        Or it could be a blessing. They will have at least one income, instead of none, and are familiar with this employer, including firsthand knowledge of the PIP and firing process.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.

          You comments ties into the one by Sue Wilson. Maybe it’s a good company (salary and/or benefits) so if someone is working there, the family is OK.

        2. Safetykats

          I’m not sure why we are assuming they would have had no income without the husband being hired. He could have left another job to come work for the company that’s now firing his wife. I don’t read anything in the post that implies he was unemployed before.

  6. pleaset

    This is so good:

    “I know it could be awkward that Jane isn’t working with us anymore, and I understand you’re in a strange position here. I want to let you know how happy we were to hire you, and that hasn’t changed. We really value your work here, and I hope this won’t change your interest in staying.”

    1. TootsNYC

      I might add to this, “We have no ill feelings toward Jane–things were hard enough for her that I feel the biggest problem is the job just wasn’t right for her, and we really needed a higher level of performance than she could provide. We wish her the best, and we’re sorry it worked out this way; I know it must be hard on her.”

      1. sassb

        I would *not* say that just because it sort of signals that it beyond the employer’s control, maybe sort of false sensitivity? I think the less said, the better-especially since OP used the term “grossly inadequate.” It’s sort of a projection that she wasn’t a good fit for the job skill-wise-she might actually have a really inadequate employee in other ways. I think what Alison said was enough.

        1. selena81

          Yeah, just stay with ‘i understand this is awkward’ and leave it at that, don’t dive in all the reasons why the firing was justified: it makes his position more awkward, and may come of as though you are pressuring him to agree that yes his wife truly *was* incompetent

  7. Sue Wilson

    Alison’s right in that there’s really no way to know how either the husband or wife will feel. It could turn our really bad or the husband might have applied for the job because they knew the wife wouldn’t be working there for much longer and they wanted to maintain at least one income at a certain level. All you can do is treat people with the dignity and respect that they would be entitled to anyway, which includes having compassionate but clear employment practices and checking in with your new hire to see how the role fits.

    In that vein however, I wouldn’t actually talk to the husband regarding the wife’s termination more than you would if they were strangers without the wife’s say-so. You don’t know their dynamic at all, and I wouldn’t want to assume in that way. So while I would emphasize that you’re happy to have him and to talk to you all regarding any questions about your employment practices you might have and to emphasize that you hope he integrates into the team well (all things you might normally mention in the onboarding process), I’m not sure I would get into whether or not he wants to stay unless that’s something he brings up or his wife is gives you the okay to bring up.

    1. Reba

      I’m feeling the other way, although I think “treat spouses as if strangers” is the right move in general.

      I think if I were in the husband’s shoes I’d likely feel grateful to have someone address the obvious elephant in the room and directly tackle uncertainties. But I’d suggest OP frame the conversation with something like, “I wanted to open a conversation about Jane’s employment ending — but please stop me if you’d rather not discuss it” — or, “in general I treat everyone as workers, not spouses, but I want to acknowledge the awkwardness you may be feeling…. etc.”

      1. Washi

        I really like Alison’s wording for that reason. It addresses the elephant in the room but then moves on to safer ground, that they are happy to have him and hope he’s still excited about the job. You definitely wouldn’t want to just say something like “Sorry about what happened with Jane” or “are you ok with how things turned out” that would put him in an awkward place of needing to take some kind of stance.

        Basically, the OP should think carefully about what she says, and think through “does this statement/question make it easy to respond in a non-awkward way?”

      2. Annette

        Yes. Don’t insult people’s intelligence. We all know this is a BFD for husband. Elephant’s hungry!

      3. Sue Wilson

        Yeah, the husband might be feeling a way, but the employer doesn’t know if the wife wants her employment discussed with her husband and she owns the “rights” to that convo, not him.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          This. Plus the OP doesn’t know the husband/wife dynamic at home. Who knows what’s said, how they treat each other behind closed doors… no good can come of assuming everything is the Donna Reed show at their house.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.

      This was my thought, maybe the salary, maybe the benefits. At least someone has a good job.

  8. Kate R

    I actually worked with a husband in this scenario. His wife was fired before I started, so I didn’t know her, but it was still recent so I heard about the situation. He was very professional about it and never seemed resentful. I worked really closely with him, and he was always very kind. I think they did know that the position just wasn’t a good fit for her, so even though it’s always an ego hit to get fired, they understood. I almost might shy away from talking to him separately about it as it may turn it into more of “a thing” than he wants it to be, but I’m not a manager, so maybe Alison is right to face it head on. I think it’s one of those things that you just don’t know how it goes until it plays out, but it won’t necessarily be awful.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      I saw this scenario play out too, though it was a large organization in a decent sized city.

      From what I recall, the husband’s manager was given a heads up that the wife was being fired and, while she was in her HR meeting, his manager informed him and allowed him to leave early that day. The husband stayed for a few months, but left fairly soon after, so I assume that he began looking pretty much immediately.

    2. Anon4This

      I also worked in this scenario, the wife did something (I can’t remember exactly what, but it had to do with being out partying when she was supposed to be working) and was fired. The husband stayed there but had zero motivation and became a terrible employee. You would think he’d eventually have been let go too, but this company only fired people when it was a glaring offense they couldn’t ignore, never for performance issues.

    3. Anon with this one

      I’ve seen this play out as well, although in a larger city. The husband had worked for the business for years and was a star employee. Wife was hired more recently within the same department as the husband, but something happened and it was an immediately fire-able offense, at least as viewed by our legal department. Still working in that department was causing massive marital issues for the husband, so he got a different job within the same organization, but within a different department. But there has been so much chaos and drama to get us here.

      This has longer lasting implications – for example when the wife is applying for new jobs, they will contact this employer, and they will likely not have good things to say. so even if the husband is still on good terms with the business, it will continue to cause ongoing issues with their family life. Really a tricky spot all around.
      The scripts are great for this one, by the way

  9. HR Recruiter

    I’ve been in this position many time. Although never I’ve never had family members in the same department. I think that part may put the husband in an awkward position with his team members. I’ve done a lot of firings. If you were as clear and upfront as you say about her performance and consequences then her husband took the job probably knowing she may be fired. If you are clear, consistent and fair typically family members working for the company understand and continue work as normal. I’ve even gotten hugs from people I’ve run into at the grocery store that I fired. Like Alison said its all about how you treat the person.

    1. boo bot

      The wife might not have told her husband about the performance issues, though – people keep much bigger things from their families…

      1. Antilles

        And even if she did talk about the performance issues at home, it may not necessarily be an *accurate* retelling – not saying that she’s intentionally lying (though I guess that’s a scenario too), but a situation where she honestly thinks she’s turned the corner but really hasn’t.

        1. Elizabeth West

          True, but we don’t know why this is happening from the letter. It could be that she’s a horrible employee overall, in which case I would imagine any communication to be skewed. But it also could be that the job just isn’t a good fit for her. If it’s the latter, I can’t imagine her not saying something to her husband, even if it was only something like “I am so frustrated at work.”

        2. boo bot

          Yeah, I can a scenario where she just thinks she can turn it around, or as you say, thinks she’s already doing better, and just doesn’t tell him about the conversations with the manager because she’s embarrassed (maybe doubly so, if she knows he might be working there).

  10. Cautionary tail

    I can’t offer advice but can share a similar tale. A family of four all worked at a small retail establishment in town. Dad was the manager, mom and the two adult kids (30+ yrs old) all worked there too. One of the kids was the social media guru with all the passwords. Mom was correctly fired for performance. That day the rest quit in solidarity. It did not go well for the business but eventually they recovered.

      1. irene adler

        Yeah. Gotta wonder.
        In one sense, the situation the OP wrote about is fortunate that, while one spouse will lose a job, the other spouse will gain a job (assuming the hubby was without a job prior to hire). So there will not be an interruption in income (assuming hubby stays on).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I’ve seen people quite in solidarity for those who are fired who aren’t even family, so you run this risk if you ever fire someone in a small establishment like that! I’m glad that store was able to recover, what a nightmare that had to have been for the owners.

  11. Meyers and Briggs are not real doctors

    Does the husband have access to any compant confidential files / IT access / new teapot designs etc that could be sabotaged? Unfortunately it might make sense to have a bit of extra monitoring of the husband.

    1. LKW

      This was my thought. OP will have a better sense of the guy’s integrity but I’d be worried about this – revenge executed over the long term is possible.

    2. Wintermute

      I had this thought immediately as well. It’s one thing if he’s sales drone #47 it’s another if he’s an IT administrator or a market forecaster. A lot of people feel (understandably) very protective of their wives, sometimes to the degree that “whether she’s right or wrong I’m fighting for her side”. It’s unfair to him but that attitude is culturally accepted enough that his employment may be necessary collateral damage if he’s in a position where you really can’t have someone you don’t trust 110%.

      That said I think the LW would have included concerns about sabotage if it was a position where it was ripe for it.

  12. Anon for This One

    My husband and I faced a somewhat similar situation- we worked for the same large call center, but in different departments. We were both hired around the same time, and things went well for the first several years. Then the focus of his department shifted, and it was no longer a good match with his strengths. His supervisors were straight with him as he tried to adjust to the new role, and by the time he was placed on a PIP he was already job searching as he knew that it wasn’t a good fit anymore. I worked there for another 4 years before I left to go back to school.

    The things that the company did that made it possible for me to continue to work there are the same things Alison hit on: the new expectations were clearly spelled out, he was treated respectfully and given support to try and meet the new expectations, and the entire process, including the firing, was handled compassionately. The other factor, which the company couldn’t control, is that my husband took the whole thing relatively well. But you will greatly improve your odds of that by how you handle the situation leading up to that. I hope this works out well for everyone, OP. Good luck!

  13. Anon Accountant

    Would it be acceptable to offer a reference that states Jane did great with TPS reports but we required excellent skills in teapot painting?

    Or is this unacceptable? I know it’s hard to get another job without strong references and if she’s interviewing for positions more suited to her skills maybe this would help her?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Sure, if that’s true. The problem is that often there were enough problems that a good reference checker is going to uncover them with the right questions — so it can end up that you’re not just saying “she was great at TPS reports” because suddenly they’re asking detailed questions about accuracy, judgment, or other things that you can’t speak positively about.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It drastically depends on the situation. I have had to let people go who cannot manage their time wisely and need a lot of assistance with setting priorities.

      So yes, if they were going to go somewhere with a lot of supervision for a role that was within their strengths [they’re great at interacting with customers, they just stink at data entry and have a huge error rate], I would be happy to support them in a more customer facing role and not order management role.

      Just because someone sucks at the job I need them to do doesn’t mean they’re not employable or bad people.

      I think this would end more in the “we’ll happily give you a reference in terms of this is splitting on good terms and that it was a bad fit” sort of thing, depending on if that’s the truth. I’m not putting my professional reputation on the line for someone though and to gloss over the fact that they were indeed let go for performance issues of some kind.

  14. Lucette Kensack

    What changes if the firing IS because the wife was lazy or incompetent? You should obviously still treat her well (as you should treat any human well), but some of the relationship-smoothing language Alison suggested won’t work as well.

    The LW’s use of “grossly inadequate” to describe the wife’s work makes me wonder whether this was more than a mismatch of skills.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You can still use the same language you’d use if she wasn’t lazy/incompetent — framing it as if it was simply a mismatch. You might not be able to say things like “you’re great at X but we really needed Y” but you can do the rest of it.

    2. JSPA

      Best case scenario: husband knows wife wasn’t qualified, realised he was; both saw writing on the wall; it’s all fairly amicable.

      Worst case scenario: she talked him into applying to cover her deficits if she stays, and to sabotage if she gets canned.

      You can’t live in fear of worst cases…but you can make sure your various computer backups are up-to-date (good policy regardless).

  15. AJK

    This happened at a job of mine. My co-worker and her husband both worked for the company, in different departments. It was not pleasant when he was let go, but my co-worker couldn’t leave because she was suddenly the sole support of their young children. She handled it very professionally at work, but she really resented the company and the situation. About a year later they fired another co-worker who was a good friend, and at that point she had enough and left as soon as she could. (By that point her husband had found a much better job.)
    This particular company was both known for hiring relatives and letting people go at the drop of a hat – obviously opinions differed as to whether people deserved to be let go, but justified or not, it happened all the time. One employee had a really rough time staying on after they fired her mother, but it was another situation where she had no choice.

    1. Wintermute

      Man, I can’t imagine what that company was thinking. Once is an accident, twice is a pattern, three times is by design. And in a situation where you’re firing people’s spouses and mothers and family members even if 99 people out of 100 are honest you’re still setting yourself up for sabotage, either morale-wise or literal.

  16. Been there

    My husband and I worked for the same company in 2008 when a massive layoff occurred and my husband lost his job (not fired). My manager did not discuss specifically my husband’s layoff but after the announcement he came by my office and offered to let me leave for the day to process the information. I very much appreciated his support.

  17. ResuMAYDAY

    I would also add that HR should talk directly to the team before the husband starts. Remind them to not speak badly about the wife and her work, and also not make it weird or awkward if she is mentioned in work/task-related conversations.

    1. Emmie

      That’s a good point. The husband could feel embarrassed, or wonder if others will think poorly of him before he’s built his reputation. The wife’s performance should not reflect upon him here.

  18. Lepidoptera

    It would be a kindness to consider making an exception to your usual hiring/firing procedures if there’s a trial period or vesting schedule to your benefits/insurance. If the wife is losing her coverage and the husband is on a six- or twelve-month term until his kicks in, you could extend her severance benefits to fill the gap. The amount it will cost you in actual dollars is negligible compared to the good faith it will show, and since one or the other of them is going to be a dependent anyway, you’re really just shuffling the paperwork a bit earlier than you otherwise would.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Oh, this is a very good idea if the company can manage it. It would go a long way toward smoothing over at least some resentment, if there is any.

  19. CastIrony

    Now I feel bad for working with my mom and soon, my brother (If things go well).

    We’ve been professional, and in fact, because she works so hard, it pushes me, too. Like another person in these comments, we are also not afraid to call each other out.

    However, if my brother gets hired, I’m going to pick up my job search again because it would look bad (nepotism), and for other reasons.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I hope that you work that out within yourself and can stop feeling bad, there’s no reason to feel bad.

      Listen, we all get a job here or there because of who we know, either due to family connections, friends or acquaintance. The thing is doing well with the job once you get it and staying humble and respectful of the situation.

      I was given my first job ever, that lead to my career being what it is because a good friend had a sister who needed an accounting assistant [her sister was a financial manager]. So she gave me a shot because I was her sister’s friend and it was easier than putting a job ad up [this was back when you listed job ads in the newspapers]. In the end I was the only one the bosses even liked and fawned over, despite being brought in by their eventual scapegoat.

      1. CastIrony

        I’m glad it worked well!

        You’re right. I shouldn’t feel bad, especially since my job currently has one (maybe two sets of) family members working together that work together well. I just don’t want to end up having too many of my family members working in the same place in fear that it would affect how we all get treated.

  20. teg

    Honestly this shows such questionable judgement on the part of whoever does the hiring that I wouldn’t be surprised if the husband sides with the wife.

    1. valentine

      It’d be sexist to refuse to hire a woman because they had to fire her incompetent husband and the employer should not mitigate projected feelings.

      1. LondonHabit

        ? I don’t see how this response relates to what teg said… And it would only be sexist to refuse to hire the wife if you would be fine hiring the husband. If the newly employed spouse is reasonable and able to compartmentalise then it might be unfair to assume there will be problems but it doesn’t make the assumption discriminatory

  21. MuseumChick

    Echoing off others, I think you need a plan for all possible scenarios here:

    Scenario A: Husband handles things professionally and continues to work for you.
    Scenario B: He is upset and demands an explanation. You can use Alison’s script, and I would add (should be demand to know the details of her firing” something like, “With all disciplinary matters we do not discuss the details with anyone other than the employee. I can tell you our process is (insert your process) before it comes to firing someone.”
    Scenario C: He continues to work for you but stays only a short time. Have the job description handy as well as the times of any top candidates from when you were looking to fill the position.
    Scenario D: He tries to sabotage files/projects. Just keep a close eye on things for a few weeks following the firing.

  22. PMP

    So, I’ve actually been in this situation, I’m a wife who worked with my husband (different departments, but small company) and he was let go. The situation was maybe not quite as tenuous because he was essentially laid-off, not fired, but UGH it was so stressful.

    My boss, the CEO, texted me that evening to just sorta, make sure I wasn’t going to never come back, I guess…and I told him that I was still on board and tried to be professional about it. People in the office were definitely a bit awkward around me, but the worst part was at home I could never talk about work because my husband would always make it a negative thing and about how he disliked the company and hoped it failed. I didn’t end up working there much longer.

  23. BRR

    I’m not sure of the exact timeline but if he started either without knowing his wife was going to be fired or it was too late to not accept the job maybe try and prepare that he’ll be a little…grouchy. It sounds possible it might have been too late in the hiring process for him to withdraw and he might be stuck in this job now. I’m not saying to excuse any ill behavior, if there even is any, just to be a little understanding of he’s a little less friendly than say in his interview.

    I’d also think about future company policy. I know small town hiring is tough but maybe couples aren’t on the same team or take some extra steps to try to make sure things go smoothly.

  24. Gwen

    True story: I am a wife who worked with a husband and was fired while he continues to work at that company. Small company, small town. We both worked there for more than a decade, so our circumstances are a bit different, but I can say things that the company did to make the situation better were to (1) reassure husband that his job was in no way affected by my firing (I’d recommend getting this in writing), and (2) give husband a raise (his workload was increased, so this made sense).

    Even though the situation has been handled more or less maturely and smoothly, OF COURSE husband resents company and is merely biding his time until he finds a better gig. There’s pretty much nothing company can do to overcome that.

    1. valentine

      OF COURSE husband resents company
      Do you mean your husband? Why? Was your firing unfair?

      1. Gwen

        It was rather uncalled for, but that’s a story for another time. My point, however, was that a husband (or mine at least) is going to have feelings about the company that fired and caused pain for his spouse.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yeah, when my partner was fired [for batsht reasons to sum it up quick, everyone else who wasn’t the person firing him agrees], I was out the door within a month’s time. I didn’t sulk or let anyone see me sweat or stew about it, I just went about my daily routines and got to sending out resumes. That’s the proper way to do it if you are resentful and over the decision, there’s no reason to blow everything up and walk out or something absurd!

      My resignation was even a surprise to that lunatic [and I still laugh and laugh and laugh when I think about that].

      1. Safetykats

        It is funny. I was let go from a job as part of a regime change – and it was handled very badly. My husband, who was working in the same department but different group, stayed until I was settled in my new job on the premise that too much change in a short period of time wasn’t good for us – which was a good call. When he did leave (about 6 months later) they were so surprised. When they asked him if there wasn’t something they could to to convince him to stay he told them the work was great, the team was great, and he had enjoyed the opportunity, but he had come there in large part to work with me and with the remainder of the team who were let go at the same time – so since we were all gone, it really made the most sense for him to move on too.

        Truly the best part is that about half the team that remained also left over the next year. Regime change handled badly is the gift that keeps on giving for almost any company, provided that people have any other choices.

  25. Plain Jane

    Logistically speaking, I’m going to advise a couple of things:

    1) Put everything in writing and hand it to her in the term meeting. Include details like when she’s getting her last paycheck and what the amount will be. Include phone numbers she’ll need like Payroll and your benefits providers so her husband doesn’t have to get this info for her later.

    2) be ready to provide a cab or Uber for the wife after the term or for the husband at the end of the day if they ride together and she wants to take the car and bolt.

  26. Wendy Ann

    Off topic, but did we ever get an update on the new boss that had to fire her husband’s ex-wife? It’s in the you may like links, but I don’t remember if there was ever an update.

    1. Not All

      She gave a bit of an update in the comments. Fairly close to the top in response to “jb”. Sounded like the company was going to handle it well.

  27. JJ Bittenbinder

    I have experienced this twice in the course of my career.

    The first time, I worked for an agency that was run by a married couple. He was the clinical director; she was the administrative director. He was kind and even-tempered; she was volatile and…not kind. It was awful. They had an hour+ drive into the office and on the days when they fought on the way in, everyone needed to stay out of her way. She would flip out about the most random things. Eventually the board of directors received enough complaints, as well as some information about borderline-illegal, or at least unethical, things she was doing, and they asked her to resign. He stayed on, and things greatly improved after that.

    Many years later, I worked for an organization that had two different married couples working for them. In one case, the couple was even on the same team, but with different supervisors (this was deliberate). They really kept home separate from work and the only impact it had on our team was that it was less expensive to send them as a pair on trips because they could share a room!

    The other couple worked on different teams. Neither of them were what you would call rock stars at their jobs, or at least they were not perceived to be so. The wife did end up getting let go after multiple write-ups and instances of disagreeing with her boss in a fairly unprofessional way. The husband left about 3 months later.

    So…my sample size of 3 says, “like most things in life, it depends!”

  28. Dzhymm

    I had a similar situation in reverse some years back. I was working for a company, and then they hired my wife for a role and then hung her out to dry by not giving her the promised training. Of course, her performance was not up to snuff as a result. When they finally let her go they manufactured a crisis at the other end of the building that supposedly required my attention, I guess so as to get me as far away from the scene of the termination as possible.

    This was not the only unprofessional thing this company has done…

  29. Stephanie

    I wonder if this is a reason some companies prohibit significant others from working in the same departments. Not sure about my current MegaCorp, but a prior MegaCorp prohibited this and would initiate transfers if they found out a couple or immediate family members were working in the same department.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s part of it. Overall, it to avoid nepotism issues from rising and other assorted liabilities for having people who are romantically involved in cahoots to either overthrow or otherwise sabotage their departments. Like in retail, you’re not usually allowed to be the cashier ringing out your mom’s groceries. It may be too tempting to override or not scan everything, it’s just to erase even the idea of foul play.

      It’s also to avoid an imbalance in power. A lot of companies have policies about fraternization between say executives and assistants.

  30. GreenDoor

    Alison, you didn’t address what to do if husband wants to get into the nitty gritty of WHY she was fired, or if he wants to debate or plead his wife’s case. I think it’s really important for OP to remember that, marriage notwithstanding, the company’s relationship with the husband and with the wife are two distinct relationships. The employer doens’t know what the two do and don’t discuss, how much they each might embellish or fib a situation, or even how solid their marriage is (and, therefore, how much privacy each wants from the other). OP should use caution relative to how much of the wife’s employment history/problems she shares with the husband. Keep the conversation focused on HIS standing with the company when talking to him and on HER standing with the company when talking to her. At work, they’re not a unit!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yeah, you should never speak to anyone, relative or just colleague about the details of any one else’s termination! Ever. This is rule 1 in HR, you can only discuss an employee issue with the employee in question and their manager{s}.

      1. Spartan

        I know I am in the minority here but I despise that policy. It should 100 percent be open knowledge who was fired and why. There is no right to privacy in the workplace. Everyone’s rating, salary etc. should be available knowledge. When someone is fired the exact reason should be public to eliminate rumors and to be straightforward with what is expected. I do not understand where the expectation of privacy around my job performance derives from.

        And yes I have worked for government agencies where my salary and raises we’re public record. My job performance was part of local government meeting minutes during my annual review. I work in IT so I was not elected or anything. I do not work in that sector now but I miss the openness.

  31. Rez123

    If she is very inadequate at her job it has probably been discussed with her several times? Therefore firing is not likely going to be a suprise. There are some people that thibk they are fantastic when they are not, but I think an average person has enough self awareness if they are good at something especially if it has been discussed with them several times.

  32. TooTiredToThink

    I had wanted to ask this earlier but didn’t get the chance – depending on what time of day she is let go; would it be a kindness to give him PTO for the rest of the day? That way he has time to wrap his mind around it too?

  33. Jady

    I know I’m late here but thought it might be valuable to chime in. My husband and I do the exact same job, same title, in a competitive market. He was hired to my job once (a long time ago), and I got hired at one of his jobs recently. For context, my husband has a strong personality and isn’t afraid of conflict. In our position, those are valuable personality traits. But in terms of dealing with bad management, not so much.

    At our first job together, we were both laid off. Even though it turned out better for us, I’m STILL bitter about this. We were the only two people laid off. No explanation or reasons provided. Here is your severance pay, here is the door. I’d always got A+ reviews and praise. I had seniority to 95% of the office. I was furious at the time because I knew I was collateral damage for a lot of reasons. (I don’t blame my husband, he was in the right.) Neither of us saw that coming.

    At my current job, he… “resigned” due to lot of political problems in the company. They’re going in one direction, which causes a lot of problems for our job (things I have to deal with now). He’s out spoken and not afraid of conflict, so he ended up in a polite disagreement with a VP, and that ended with a impolite strong “suggestion” that he should resign. He did (giving 2 weeks notice), but once the VP found out he was told to leave immediately.

    I’m still here, there was no fallout for me, probably because I’d never even met this VP before. I doubt he knows I exist. My direct boss did pull me in the office the next day and basically asked if I was leaving. I told him the blunt truth – I’m not happy about it, I have no plans to leave immediately, there are reasons I want to stay here, but be aware if I was talked to like my husband was, I’d walk too.

    That’s been months ago and things are peaceful. I really appreciated the directness of the subject from my boss and not being written off like the last time.

    But I am aware I have some job security based in the sole fact that it’s hard to find people that do my job. Losing anyone that does this job is painful for the company.

    Funny enough, due to the way my husband was treated they lost another person in my position who gave no notice as well. They saw what happened to my husband and everything now thinks they’ll be kicked out on notice.

  34. Anita Brayke

    I potentially feel badly for the husband…he could be leaving a decent job for his “new” job, only to be put in an extremely awkward position. Wow…

  35. Luna

    I kept wondering why Alison talked about the husband like he was still around, until I double-checked the title and realized I read that they had just *F*ired the husband and not *H*ired him. Oopsie…

    Yeah, there is likely little way to stop this from being awkward. Chances are the husband might even ask you or his supervisors why his wife was fired; which brings up its own idea of if it’s okay/allowed to tell an employee why his spouse was fired.

    I agree with previous comments. Keep a lookout for a replacement for the husband’s position, too, in case he decides that he doesn’t want to work with this company, after all. But just in case.

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